Cocoa: Lovers’ Sweet Can Be a Healthful Treat!
A heart-shaped box of chocolates may be a common way we choose to say, “Be Mine, Valentine,” but here’s a case where form follows function: What looks like a heart is good for the heart. That box is bursting with a variety of beneficial bonbons that can do everything from giving your loved one an energy boost to helping them stick around a bit longer (on the earth, not just with you—although there is that, at least if they love cocoa and chocolate as much as I do).
So, go ahead and treat your Valentine to chocolate. Cocoa beans are among the richest sources of antioxidants called flavonoids and polyphenols—similar to those found in wine—which benefit both your physical and mental health. I absolutely love to bake for friends and family, and how truly sweet it is when those recipes contain cocoa—and all its many benefits.
Protect your heart: The flavonoids in cocoa can lower your risk of heart attacks and stroke by helping to reduce the blood’s ability to clot. 
Quell stress: In a 2009 study conducted by Swiss scientists, eating dark chocolate daily reduced stress hormone levels.  Researchers measured stress levels of 30 healthy adults daily over two weeks and found that eating 1.4 ounces of dark chocolate daily reduced stress hormone levels in those who had high anxiety levels. (Just be sure to account for the 235 calories that 1.4 ounces of chocolate delivers—or you may be stressed to see extra pounds creeping on.)
Fight fatigue: Cocoa may help ward off fatigue as well. A small 2010 study in the UK found that polyphenols—the group of antioxidant class that includes flavonoids—helped sufferers of chronic fatigue syndrome combat symptoms, including anxiety and depression. 
With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, why not give your loved one a special treat made with cocoa. Not only will it liven the taste buds, but it will provide so many other benefits as well! Nothing better than the delicious, loving gift of health!
Chocolate Almond Pudding
MAKES 4 SERVINGS (1⁄2 CUP EACH)
There are a variety of ready-to-drink nut milks on the market, which are made by soaking nuts or seeds in water, blending, and then straining the liquid. Served warm or cold, this silky crowd-pleaser takes just minutes to prepare. If you have a nut allergy, you can also prepare the pudding using low-fat milk or soy milk.
- 1/4 cup unsweetened natural cocoa powder
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 1⁄4 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups unflavored almond milk, preferably unsweetened or sweetened with brown rice syrup (or low fat or reduced fat milk)
- 1⁄3 cup agave nectar
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons toasted slivered almonds
In a 1-quart saucepan, combine the cocoa, cornstarch, and salt. Add just enough of the milk to make a smooth paste. Gradually stir in the agave and the remaining milk.
Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture begins to thicken. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Pour into 4 serving dishes and cool. Sprinkle with the almonds just before serving.
167 calories, 3 g protein, 2 g carbohydrates, 4 g total fat, 1 g saturated fat, 2 g fiber, 20 g sugar, 218 mg sodium
Cheryl Forberg RD is a New York Times bestselling author and a James Beard award-winning chef. Cheryl co-wrote the eating plan for NBC’s “The Biggest Loser” and was the show’s nutritionist for twelve seasons. Her latest book is Flavor First, and she writes a blog of cooking and nutrition tips. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook for more tips and recipes. And continue to read the Saturday Evening Post website for more regular nutrition tips and features from Cheryl.